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The Octahedral Process

In the art of pottery-making, the standard approaches shaping vessels include coiling, slab-building, slip-casting and wheel-throwing methods. Although my octahedral process uses some elements of these methods, it draws more from sculpting techniques.

The process has eight stages (hence, the name "octa" meaning eight and "hedral" meaning faces): conceptualization, fabrication, equilibridization, sphericalization, sculpting, lid-fitting, drying and firing. Along with standard tools, I use a variety of other tools adapted from ordinary household utensils, such as wineglass rims, Mason jar lids and copper tubing, or constructed from porcelain, wood or metal.

All my forms are made as solids, then hallowed. "Solemnity," for example, began as a solid cube made from gradually evaporated white porcelain slip with embedded colored porcelain pieces. The cube was carefully truncated to a more symmetrical polyhedral shape whose angles and edges are compressed into the smooth curves of a sphere; then the interior was carefully hallowed to form a vessel with a nearly perfectly fitted lid. Careful monitoring ensures the balanced distribution of moisture during every stage.

Although all of my work draws from geometry, I call the one style in which I explore it fully Geometrica; it alludes to nature's design on a micro scale. Spherical shapes always embody fivefold symmetry, the same symmetry as seen in the 20 sided icosahedron, one of the five Platonic Solids that have been known for well over 2500 years. As I defined the Geometrica style, I took a dramatic departure from solid vessels and began to create open geometric latticeworks such as "Hildegard de Bingen."

These open lattice artworks were inspired by my explorations into carbon chemistry. They also stemmed from my appreciation for the "synergetic geometry" of the work by R. Buckminster Fuller, who is best known as the inventor of the geodesic dome. In 1995, when I was spending time volunteering in Buckminster Fuller's archives in Santa Barbara, California, the newest form of carbon, buckminsterfullerene, was becoming internationally recognized as one of most important recent discoveries in chemistry.

Chemists Richard Smalley, Harold Kroto and Robert Curl had discovered the existence of a third form of carbon in 1985. Unlike the two other forms of carbon, diamond and graphite, this amazing 60-atom cage molecule had the surface configuration of a soccer ball. (Note: Diamond is a molecular network crystal with each carbon bonded to four others in a tetrahedral configuration. Graphite is formed in flat sheets with each carbon bonded to three others in a hexagonal configuration.) Both Kroto and Smalley felt it most appropriate to name the discovery "buckminsterfullerene" for its striking resemblance to a geodesic dome. A new family of these molecules, called "fullerenes," have since been found.

One of the most exciting chapters in the history of the discovery of buckminsterfullerene came when Richard Smalley and Harold Kroto were trying to figure out the "shape" of this extraordinary molecule. What was the geometric configuration of 60 atoms of carbon that would allow it to become a strong, hollow, but flexible shape? Smalley talks about staying up late one evening, pasting hexagons together and finally realizing that what allowed the hexagons to curl into three dimensions was when the hexes formed pentagonal cavities. Both Smalley and Kroto also saw that Fuller's geodesic domes, latticeworks of hexagons and triangles, introduced pentagons as well.

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